John D. Bridgers M.D.
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Off to Medical School

Saul, a Jew from Tarsus in Asia Minor, took a Latin name, and said to some Romans:  "All things work together for good to those who love God."

(Romans 8:28)

It's ironic how customs and habits persist in a family, reflecting in one generation a venue and life-style that have little to do with a current situation.

I was raised from infancy in the town that my mother's family had lived in for the two generations since our antecedents moved in from family farms.

My father, on the other hand, had been raised on a farm, but lived in town since before his marriage.

Despite this, both in my grandmother's home and ours, we followed meal patterns, not exactly the same but similar to those of farm life.

In those days farmers habitually rose at dawn, immediately started on such chores as milking and gathering eggs, took a break a couple hours later for a big breakfast, and then completed the bulk of their out-of-doors work in the morning hours.

They took another break in the early afternoon for a big meal, which they called dinner -- not lunch -- and which was the main repast of the day.

Many took an early afternoon nap in the heat of the day, and then did work through the afternoon, which kept them out of the sun.

Work ended at dusk and they had supper -- not dinner -- and this was a light meal compared with that at noon, frequently made up from leftovers from earlier.

We ate a large breakfast, albeit in the early morning but well after sun-up.

All came home from work or school for the noon meal, which we too called dinner, and then ate supper in the early evening, again a light meal.

In our home, though dinner was the big meal of the day, there was little time for socializing, so that family visiting and conversation mostly went on at supper-time.

This was a schedule I followed through school and college until I left home to join the Navy in the year before Pearl Harbor.

Louis Wilkerson was a year older than I.  His family lived the next street over from us and he had been a life-long acquaintance who would become a close college friend.

Later we would later become in-laws of a sort when his younger brother, Norman, would marry my younger sister, Elizabeth.

We attended East Carolina Teachers College (E.C.T.C.), and were laboratory partners in several courses.

We were both following a course of study that we hoped would lead to medical training.

This goal was eventually gained by both of us, though on different schedules and by diverse paths.

One day in our second year together, Louis told me that his parents had agreed to send him to Wake Forest College the next year so he could finish his pre-medical work at a school that had its own medical curriculum.

At the time that Baptist College was still on its original Wake County campus near Raleigh and offered a two-year medical school from whence students then transferred to four-year schools to finish their training.

That night at supper I shared this news with the family and expressed a wish that I could do the same.

We had gone through the Great Depression and recovered somewhat with the New Deal but now, in the late 1930's, we were experiencing what was being called The Recession.

My father's mind was obviously on these things when he said:  "I realize you're probably going to have to go somewhere beyond E.C.T.C. to get into medical school.  I guess we could find some way to send you to Wake Forest, but then if you didn't get into medical school I don't know we could send you anywhere else or keep you there until you graduate.  You only have about another year before you will get your degree here and I know we can afford that.  Get your diploma at E.C.T.C. -- that will be something no one can take away from you -- then we'll talk about what comes next."

It made sense and I dropped the subject.

Louis went to Wake Forest as planned, was accepted in medical school, the campus was moved to Winston Salem and he became part of the first class to get their MD's from the new four-year school.

While he was doing this, World War II came along.  I was off flying in the Navy and beginning to think that medicine had passed me by.

Louis' and my paths only casually brushed together thereafter, but we remained life-long good friends until he died of a stroke two years ago.

However, he would, before that, have a deep influence on a crucial decision in my career.

I had been on carriers in the Pacific for two tours and in late 1944 went to the Training Command in Florida as a scout-bombing instructor -- we faced an uncertain future, but it was clear that the war was winding down.

A comely W.A.V.E. communications officer at our air station caught my eye, and I hers.

Lieut. (j.g.) Edith Hamrick was also from North Carolina and that certainly fueled our mutual attraction. 

We had decided to marry, but not when.

VE Day had come and gone, plans were being made to transfer forces to the Pacific to cope with the Japanese, and so our future was uncertain.

One night when we were parked in front of the W.A.V.E. barracks -- necking and talking -- we discussed what to do after marriage and the War.

She knew I had in mind following the family tradition in journalism, but that night I mentioned that if I had my "druthers" I would study medicine.

Edie had a brother and three uncles who were physicians and she thought this was a grand idea -- from that moment on "our" goal was fixed.

Then suddenly the A-bombs fell and the end of World War II came more quickly than anticipated.

Immediately following V-J Day I wrote a battery of medical schools, all of whom I heard from, though I was naïve enough to only apply at Duke.

The Duke representative in Jacksonville, a gentlemanly, gray haired urologist named Dr. Jelks, interviewed me.

He told me that his report was supposed to be confidential, but he wanted me to know I had his recommendation.

I immediately called my Dad and wrote his and my friend, Mr. Rose.

Junius H. Rose was the Superintendent of Schools in my hometown, who also acted as Principal of the high school, and was a great friend to all the acolytes of his tenure, past and present.

He was a rabid Duke alumnus who over the years had gotten many deserving students into school there.

School business took him to the Raleigh-Durham area constantly, and scarcely a week went by but what he stopped by the medical school admissions office to see how my application was progressing.

He kept Dad informed, but time seemed to hang in limbo until we heard the good news.

School started in October 1946, and when I found out that I was one of 72 applicants accepted out of 1400 I was amazed that I had made it.

Particularly considering that all my classmates were products of much more prestigious colleges than was I -- not that this surprised me.

Sometime later I was in the Admissions Office talking to Mrs. Elizabeth Swett, the executive secretary who was the widow to the school's first anatomy professor and a "mother" to all the medical students.

I asked her how in the world I had managed to be selected and she told me:  "We were impressed by your war record.  We were also impressed that though you were younger than most of your classmates you had graduated from college whereas most of them had only completed 2-3 years.  And then, we didn't know how we would be able to handle  Mr. Rose if we turned you down."

So there it was -- a prophecy fulfilled:

  • A father's sound advice many years before;
  • The encouragement of a faithful fiancée in decision;
  • The diligence of a mentor and old friend in the breech.

They worked together for my good.

Thank God for each and all.




April 20, 1996


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